Commentary

Mavs get glimpse of Howard's potential

One game, however, won't impact decision about whether to trade struggling swingman

Updated: February 4, 2010, 1:50 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Coach Rick Carlisle wants to get something on the record: He wants Josh Howard and thinks the Dallas Mavericks need him.

Will that stop the trade rumors circulating the Mavs' struggling swingman? Certainly not.

Especially not with the owner acknowledging that there is reason for Howard to be uncertain of his immediate future with the Feb. 18 trade deadline looming.

Don't mistake that for Mark Cuban being eager to wash his hands of Howard, whom the owner has consistently supported through the roller coaster that has been his recent career, on and off the court. Cuban said he hopes to answer questions later this season about how pleased he is that he didn't pull the trigger on a Howard trade.

That would require two things to happen: 1) The Mavs not to get a trade proposal for Howard that makes sense for a franchise determined to be contenders; 2) Howard to snap out of the worst slump of his career.

Howard provided hope for the latter in Wednesday night's 110-101 win over the Golden State Warriors, which snapped a season-worst three-game losing streak. The 19-point performance, which used to be an average night for Howard, came hours after he was quoted expressing frustration about his role as a reserve and uncertain future with the franchise.

"I don't know if my time is up here, but I still have a [load] of talent to offer," Howard told NBA.com. "Only playing half a season last year and only [28] games this year, I've got my legs. I know I'm going to get picked up regardless. That's not even a concern.

"With how things are being handled here right now, all I can do is roll with it."

Howard, who declined a pregame interview request from ESPNDallas.com and departed the locker room before the media entered after the game, has been relegated to a sixth-man role since he missed the Jan. 20 win over the Washington Wizards because of a stomach virus.

The Mavs' plan entering the season was for Howard to start at shooting guard, sliding over from small forward to make room for Shawn Marion.

However, Howard missed almost all of the first month and a half of the season while rehabilitating from offseason surgery on his left ankle. Upon his return, Carlisle opted to bring Howard off the bench to ease him back into the mix and manage his minutes.

Howard's mid-January stint as a starter ended abruptly because he was ineffective and the Mavs were searching for a way to snap Jason Terry out of his slump.

"I'm just doing whatever the coaches want me to do," Howard told NBA.com. "They didn't give me a reason why they ain't starting me, so I don't know. I ain't been cussing, I ain't been fussing, I ain't been tripping."

He ain't been playing well, either. Howard's statistics across the board are drastically lower than his career totals. Yet he's still considered a valuable trade commodity because of a contract that includes a team option for $11.8 million next season.

Carlisle, who goes to great lengths to soothe Howard's fragile psyche, said he did explain his reasoning to Howard when the decision was made for him to return to the bench.

Carlisle recalled talking to Howard during a practice at Villanova the on Jan. 21, the day before Howard served as the sixth man in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The coach rattled off statistics indicating the Mavs were a better team with Howard coming off the bench, mentioning significant differences in the team's record and his scoring average and shooting percentage as a starter and reserve. Carlisle also cited the need to get Terry's game jump-started.

But the last thing Carlisle wants is to get into a back-and-forth with Howard about the issue via the media. Carlisle has publicly left open the possibility of Howard returning to the starting lineup.

Howard I'm just doing whatever the coaches want me to do. They didn't give me a reason why they ain't starting me, so I don't know. I ain't been cussing, I ain't been fussing, I ain't been tripping.

-- Josh Howard

"I mean, this guy is an All-Star caliber talent, without question," Carlisle said. "It's been a frustrating last 16 months for him with injury and uncertainty and upheaval. The acquisition of Marion was great for our team, but it muddied the waters a little bit as far as the lineup and so forth. As a coach, I've got to figure all that out."

Howard gave a glimpse of what the Mavericks need from him against Golden State, a bad team on the butt end of a back-to-back. Howard was almost unstoppable when he didn't settle for jump shots, going 9-of-15 from the floor (1-of-5 from 3-point range).

It'd be nice if Howard pulled down more than two rebounds in 31 minutes, his most playing time since being stripped of the starting role. And he did do a lot of his damage against Coby Karl, a recent D-League callup.

But the Mavs aren't about to nitpick a vintage Howard performance, something that has been so rare this season.

"We need him to be in attack mode off the bench," Dirk Nowitzki said. "He's usually instant offense for us -- or used to be. He's got to get back to it."

When Howard plays well, he provides an element the Mavs don't have otherwise, according to Carlisle. That's an offensive threat who is a strong finisher who is a threat to drive, hit the midrange jumper, knock down 3s and get to the line a lot.

"He's just an all-purpose player," Carlisle said, "and the kind of guy who would play well and fit well with any team."

Despite what the coach says, that team might not be the Mavericks later this month, although Howard's performance against Golden State was a pretty good start if he wants to stay in Dallas.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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